Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

There have already been plenty of interesting articles about this movie, an early pick for my favorite of the year (at least until until I have a chance to check out Star Wars). Some have noted the implicit feminism of this movie, the way the story revolves around women and their allies finding a new way forward through the wasteland of the real even while pursued by bellowing and decayed mockeries of the old patriarchies. Others have commented on the quality of the action film-making here, the style of drama sweeping the viewer into a tense and kinetic plot with unbelievable stunts and practical effects.


Two things grabbed my imagination about this excellent movie: its refreshing narrative clarity and coherence and the incredibly detailed and economical world-building.

After watching this movie I had a pretty good sense where everything happened. I understood the path Imperator Furiosa (great names in this film, BTW) took on her flight from the forces of the predatory Immortan Joe and his fanatical War Boys, could even sketch a map of their trek. Beyond that, I had a sense of the intererior space of the war-rig, the heavily-modded tractor trailer Fuiriosa drove, how one might get from the front of the vehicle to the back and where each character was in that space in any given moment of the film.That is a sadly unappreciated detail in modern cinema. I enjoyed Age of Ultron, but thinking about it, I’d have to say Whedon employs the chaos cinema style of post-2000 movies. The impression of battle and action and frenetic motion was more important than any specific understanding of which Avenger was where during the final fight. I am no fundamentalist when it comes to action. I’ve enjoyed what might be called classic cinema and I’ve enjoyed the whirling, bewildering sensorium of “heightened continuity.” That said, I do lean towards the former.

For a movie as simple and keyed-into detail as Fury Road, understanding a sequence of action reassures and engages. Director George Miller clearly wants viewers to participate in this movie as active spectators, not lulled into a fitful slumber by haphazard explosions and showers of punch/kicks. Comprehension of danger here fuels tension, builds suspense.

The details matter.

They matter in the way the chase unfolds and they matter in the participants of this specific, hyper-contextualized drama. Every car, every scarred body, every scene communicates an entire world to the viewer. Very little needs exposition, but every two-headed gecko, tattoo, and car-mod weaves together a bleak and corroded vision of the post-apocalypse. Miller doesn’t both holding our hands, walking through each cute gimmick, its origin or purpose. But neither does he simply dangle it in the background as amusing distractions. This is a world where something as simple as a gearshift conceals a dagger, and a complicated pattern is needed to avoid a truck’s kill-switch. These are important points in the plot, lethal subtleties.

In addition, Miller understands that life is constantly in motion, constantly changing. Even as he presents this world to us, the particulars of it are decaying, flying apart, vanishing.

I’m also going to reserve a sentence or two for the acting - in particular Charise Theron’s Furiosa and Tom Hardy’s Mad Max. In a movie with little dialogue it becomes crucial that every look and gesture sells the leads’ humanity and complexity. Both actors are models of strength and vulnerability, tension and release.

See this movie. Watch it twice.
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